REVIEW: ‘Spider-Man: No Way Home’ spins a satisfying web

The Marvel Cinematic Universe’s incarnation of Spider-Man fought in the Avengers’ Civil War and the Infinity War, but those end up paling in comparison to his multi-layered challenge in “No Way Home.”

The hero’s alter ego is Peter Parker, once again portrayed by Tom Holland. The movie begins with a news program revealing the webslinger’s identity via a hoax video produced by the villain Mysterio.

In the video, Mysterio not only revealed that Spider-Man is Peter Parker, he also claimed the hero used drone technology to wreak havoc on London. Parker soon has supporters and haters surrounding him 24/7, which pushes him to find a solution. That solution is visiting Mystic Arts Master Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and asking if there’s a spell to make people forget Spider-Man’s identity.

The word “man” may have been in the name of Peter Parker’s alter ego, but he didn’t feel all too mature for much of the MCU. That’s no longer the case, this film makes Peter grow up, and truly become Spider-Man.

To get there, the latest film in the Marvel franchise takes audiences on a long journey with a lot of familiar faces, with some major emotional moments along the way. That journey may be a bit overlong and paced somewhat poorly, but it ultimately remains satisfying until the end.

It is true that the movie feels over-stuffed at times, and that’s not just because it has several villains and a crowded bunch of supporting characters. It also has a lot of fanservice. There’s a lot of moments, references and interactions that were placed to give the audience something familiar to notice.

The film’s narrative structure certainly does bend quite a bit because of this. Yet, fortunately, it never breaks. The film holds together through to the end, and what an end it is.

The movie concludes in tremendous fashion, with an ending that’s melancholic, but bold. An ending that pushes the main character in an interesting direction that, while somber, feels right.

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Courtesy Sony Pictures, Marvel Studios and Columbia Pictures

The final section of the movie takes place around Christmas and combined with the mood of the film, is somewhat reminiscent of the ending to “Batman Returns.

While that Christmas aesthetic is only in the movie’s final act, though, the film does somewhat feel like a holiday season epic. It has the length, coming in at two hours and 30 minutes, plus it features a sprawling adventure with a plethora of good characters.

Another aspect helping “No Way Home” work is a previous “Spider-Man” film, which was “Into the Spider-Verse.” That picture, released in 2018, introduced the concept of characters from other super hero universes entering a single one together.

While “No Way Home” doesn’t use that exact blueprint, some of the humor and interactions certainly feel inspired by “Spider-Verse.” Of the two multiverse “Spider-Man” movies now out, “Spider-Verse” is superior to “No Way Home.”

Still, the mutliverse concept for this spidey movie does help break up the MCU formula that has led to lesser movies in the franchise like “Black Widow.” That formula is still noticeable at times, but this one manages to stand out.

The MCU has really built its empire on its characters, though, and they really do shine in the latest feature, as do some from other movies. Most importantly, it gets its lead character right. For those worried about Spidey sharing the spotlight, while he’s on plenty of promotional material, Dr. Strange does not overshadow the main hero.

“No Way Home” is very much about Spider-Man and those closest to him, and watching him either trying to protect his loved ones or allowing them to help him on his endeavors is compelling material.

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Watching Peter, his girlfriend MJ (Zendaya) and his best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon) form a Harry Potter-esque trio to solve the film’s dilemma is fun and exciting. Meanwhile, Peter getting advice from his aunt May (Marisa Tomei) on how he should go forward creates some meaningful scenes.

May isn’t one of Peter’s super-powered mentors, yet this film captures her being a true stalwart on doing what’s right. As a result, her interactions with Peter are some of the strongest the movie has to offer in terms of drama.

As previously stated, the ending is superb, too, and feels so appropriate for the growth of these characters. And these performers are certainly up to the task.

Holland has been solid as Spider-Man since he first appeared in “Captain America: Civil War.” It’s true his portrayal has mostly focused on the character’s frantic, teenage moments and fanboyism when with other heroes,  but he has proven himself capable in the serious times, too, such as the conclusion to “Avengers: Endgame.”

He draws on those dramatic abilities again in “No Way Home” when he needs to and it pays off. It also helps that the supporting cast is really damn good.

It’s hard for Holland to really go wrong when he’s working with several Academy Award winners and nominees. It’s not just some short guest appearances, either, as many of the other characters who show up get plenty of screen time, and the actors portraying them definitely buy-in to their roles they reprise.

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Perhaps no one does it better, though, than Willem Dafoe, who once again portrays Norman Osborn, also known as the Green Goblin. When he’s Norman, he’s perfectly polite and willing to help, while as the Goblin, Dafoe really brings the manic, chaotic energy of the villain.

When the Goblin and the rest of the villains eventually wage battle in the Big Apple, it is quite entertaining. The final action scenes of this blockbuster, along with a skirmish between Dr. Strange and Spider-Man, are quite a sight to see on the big screen and captivate one’s attention.

The rest of the movie is just a bit flat visually, though. There hasn’t been a ton of style associated with director Jon Watts’ “Spider-Man” films and this one is no exception. The scenes with world-bending moments with Dr. Strange are the only thing that give this movie some flair.

In all fairness, this isn’t true for the whole film. For example, there’s a great tracking shot during a moment when Peter’s spider-sense is ringing alarm bells to heighten suspense. However, there are other moments that just don’t have much identity.

“No Way Home” does have flaws. The film stumbles now and then. Every time that happens, though, it picks itself right back up and finds its stride again.

Overall, the film has many sequences where it really excels, from growing its main character immensely to entertaining action, plus moments that, while playing on nostalgia, can get a viewer to really have a truly satisfying experience.  4 out of 5.

Author: Matthew Liedke

Journalist and film critic in Minnesota. Graduate of Rainy River College and Minnesota State University in Moorhead. Outside of movies I also enjoy sports, craft beers and the occasional video game.

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